The wonderful world of crustaceans according to the Alice-in-Wonderland method

It was quite busy in the last month. Still is, but I am in the final stretch of the project that kept me busy and will pick up blogging again. I will start where I left previous month. At that time I was working on another post about the Lewandowsky/Cook/Lloyd “Alice-in-Winderland” paper. Remember, they wrote a paper in which they portrayed the arguments of skeptics as being incoherent. By giving generalized statements (especially in table 1) and putting them side by side, they demonstrated that these statements were incoherent.

My view is that the statements in the paper were not incoherent. They were framed as incoherent because those statements were generalized in such a way that they became incoherent. For example the statements “Future climate cannot be predicted” and “We are heading into an ice age” are incoherent at first sight. It cannot simultaneously be true that people believe that future climate can not be predicted and that we are heading to an ice age.

But taking a look at the examples that the authors themselves provided to prove their case, another story emerges. The actual statement made by skeptics were that mathematical models could not predict the climate in 100 years time and there are indications from previous cycles that a cooling period could be ahead. Which are two statements that are not incoherent. They could both be true. It is perfectly possible that one believes that mathematical models cannot predict the climate in 100 years time and that a cooling period could happen in the next decades on basis of other parameters.

Basically, it was the generalization of these skeptic statements that created the incoherence, not the actual statements (which were not incoherent at all).

The generalization is not exactly wrong per se (both are ways of predicting what could happen in the future), but nevertheless it is inappropriate in this comparison because both statements are used in a very specific way and that nuance got lost in the generalization.

Then I found an example of what it will like when we apply this very technique to the messages that we hear in the media and see how easy it is to create incoherent statements from perfectly coherent statements.

Back then (remember, I started writing this post last month) I came across the article Climate change likely to produce sexier male herbivorous amphipods. PhD student Katherine Heldt and University of Adelaide ecologist and evolutionary biologist Dr Pablo Munguia studied the herbivorous amphipod, Cymadusa pemptos, in large tanks under the elevated temperature and CO2 predicted for 100 years from now. It was found that the males got more attractive to the females, with a resulting population explosion of that particular amphipod.

The results of this study was widely reported. Some even said that Crustaceans Are Having More Sex Because Of Climate Change. Okay, that is what I remember: “crustacean populations will explode because of climate change”.

Then I found another article around the same time, Consequence of Climate Change: Baby Lobsters Cannot Survive in Warmer Waters, in which was claimed that baby lobsters will not survive if waters continue to warm, according to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. In short, bad news for the lobster industry.

In skeptical science-spirit we can generalize this to: “crustacean populations will not survive because of global warming”. This is not exactly wrong, lobsters are members of the superclass of the crustaceae and the class of Malacostraca, just as the sand fleas from the first story.

Attentive readers would notice that we now created two inconsistent statements. It cannot simultaneously be true that crustacean populations will explode because of warming and that crustaceans will not survive warming.

That is where the pea went. The original statements at such were not exactly contradictory. It is perfectly possible that Cymadusa pemptos populations would increase in warm & high CO2 conditions and that baby lobsters would not survive warmer temperatures. It was the generalization that did the trick. It is however this trick that Lewandowsky and Cook employed in their paper in order to prove incoherence in skeptic’s arguments. The technique is very powerful, it can even find contradictions where there are none and there were many examples to be found in the Wonderland-paper.

It is even not limited to skeptical arguments as seen with the example of the crustaceans. Consensus or alarmist messages can be affected as well. This is not hard to understand. Those messages are translated by many people with various ranges of understanding of the subject of Global Warming/Climate Change. Combined with a lack of clear definitions and topped with the generalization of the message, there is probably no end to the contradictory statements that one could gather.


3 thoughts on “The wonderful world of crustaceans according to the Alice-in-Wonderland method

  1. poitsplace

    To point out how one could unify these two examples into a much more coherent statement…when survival conditions are supposedly lower because of warmer temperatures, the species appears to have an adaptive mechanism that makes them produce more offspring.

    That said, all of this is of course fantasy because the oceans are not warming significantly. A quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the entire suggested energy imbalance the earth is supposedly experiencing would take 500 years to warm the oceans by 1 degree, rendering them effectively a bottomless pit. It is interesting to note that ALL, that’s 100% of “increasing ocean temperatures” are not only entirely localized but at rates 3-4 orders of magnitude (yes you read that right) faster than could reasonably be expected…something like a couple of degrees over a period of weeks or months.

    These are simple, natural, heat distribution issues that are played up by green groups (and parroted by the press) and then everyone simply forgets about it when the regions surge back to their normal state because the very temporary conditions have ceased. It gives a very twisted, some might say perverted, view of global warming.

    Back to the example from the paper…saying one is not able to predict the climate is not remotely inconsistent with the statement that we can’t make predictions. The issue is not one of predictive ability but one of observation/experience. All evidence we have points to normal interglacials being as long as…well this interglacial. Sometimes it’s longer or shorter. Sometimes it’s warmer or cooler. On rare occasions it actually skips a glacial period. And BTW, that would be reason to celebrate, not to bemoan the release of ancient, much needed carbon into the system.

    Warming by amounts suggested by the IPCC is nothing to fear, period. The glacial period, with it’s mountains of ice is something to fear…if one must choose one of them to fear, anyway. And it should be noted that the fact that there has been an uptick in temperature in recent history is meaningless. Climate is constantly changing and a quirky result of that is that generally, simply because it’s almost always warming or cooling…the world usually warms up a bit just before that last plunge in temperature keeps going and drives us down into the depths of a glacial period.

    and as always, I hope that this long bit of rambling was helpful.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      My focus was entirely on the mechanism applied in the paper. It was never my intention to theorize about how wrong the conclusion about the crustaceans might be. I certainly didn’t take my own (wrong) conclusion seriously. The subject of this post is the way this incoherence was created.

      Lewandowsky and Cook for example generalized “mathematical models can’t predict what the average global temperature will be in 100 years” to “future climate change cannot be predicted with any accuracy”. Which isn’t exactly wrong, but some important nuances got lost by generalizing it this way.
      At the same time they generalized the rambling of the then mayor of London (“suppose for a moment that Corbyn is right”) and interviews with two scientists (“we see ocean cycles going negative in the coming decades”) as “we are heading into an ice age”.
      Combine those two generalizations together and we get something incoherent. But is that still the correct conclusion?

      The generalizations at such are not wrong per se. If one believes that “future climate change can’t be predicted”, then one certainly would agree also that “mathematical models can’t predict climate change in 100 years”. Putting it in another way: “mathematical models can’t predict climate change in 100 years” is a subset of “future climate change can’t be predicted”.

      As you observed correctly, the nuance however is that the the original statement and the generalization of that statement aren’t the same anymore. The statement “mathematical models can’t predict climate change in 100 years” doesn’t say anything about other ways of predicting future climate (like projections of known cycles for the near future). That is where Lewandowsky and Cook derailed in this example.
      There were numerous other examples in the paper that employed the same technique as found by several other bloggers.

      In this post I played with the same technique and employed them to the two (perfectly coherent) crustacean stories. By generalizing the sand fleas and lobsters as being crustaceans (which is not exactly wrong, they both are crustaceans), some important nuances got lost and this then leads inevitably to the wrong conclusion.

      Basically, this technique can be applied to all kinds of statements (denialist, skeptics or alarmist alike). Therefor it is my opinion that the conclusion of the paper (“the pseudo-scientific arguments that underpin climate science denial are mutually incoherent”) is inconclusive. This conclusion could as well been reached by the use of this biased technique, not necessarily by skeptics actually being incoherent.

      There is more to be said about this conclusion, but that is maybe the subject for another post.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s